It’s a little-known fact that Mozart wasn’t the only musical talent in his family. Maria Anna, his elder sister by five years, was also a gifted musician in her own right. But the customs and norms of the 18th century kept her from shining. On this International Women’s Day, LG Electronics – a company that seeks to help people fulfil their full potential through technology – is telling the brilliant story of Maria Anna Mozart through a never-before-heard piece of music. Words and phrases from 66 letters exchanged between Maria Anna and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and 90 diary pages that have survived to this day were transformed into musical notes. And in the hands of pianist Heloisa Fernandes, they became an exclusive melody, expressing the feelings and personality of an artist whose talent was shrouded by history. Launched on March 8th, International Women’s Day this initiative was only made possible by the combination of technology, the study of human language and one talented pianist. An unprecedented idea from AlmapBBDO, which is premiering its first campaign for LG – specifically for the LG XBOOM GO, a portable speaker with audio technology by Meridian. LG, along with Almap, discovered that while Maria Anna’s own compositions were lost, the letters she exchanged with her brother Wolfgang, as well as her diary, are still with us. Access to that material was the first step in creating the first piece by Maria Anna Mozart that people will be able to hear. The writing, all in German, underwent painstaking analysis so that its tone and pronunciation could be translated into musical notes – which were then arranged by Heloisa Fernandes. The piece, entitled ‘Das Königreich Rücken’ – an imaginary kingdom that Maria Anna and Mozart made reference to in their letters – became the soundtrack to the campaign spot, by Belgrado and Supersônica.
Maria Anna (called Marianne and nicknamed Nannerl) was – like her younger brother – a child prodigy. The children toured most of Europe (including an 18-month stay in London in 1764-5) performing together as “wunderkinder”. There are contemporaneous reviews praising Nannerl, and she was even billed first. Until she turned 18. A little girl could perform and tour, but a woman doing so risked her reputation. And so she was left behind in Salzburg, and her father only took Wolfgang on their next journeys around the courts of Europe. Nannerl never toured again.
But the woman I found did not give up. She wrote music and sent at least one composition to Wolfgang and Papa – Wolfgang praised it as “beautiful” and encouraged her to write more. Her father didn’t, as far as we know, say anything about it.
Did she stop? None of her music has survived. Perhaps she never showed it to anybody again, perhaps she destroyed it, maybe we will find it one day, maybe we already did but it’s wrongly attributed to her brother’s hand. Composing or performing music was not encouraged for women of her time. Wolfgang repeatedly wrote that nobody played his keyboard music as well as she could, and Leopold described her as “one of the most skilful players in Europe”, with “perfect insight into harmony and modulations” and that she improvises “so successfully that you would be astounded”.
Like Virginia Woolf’s imagined Shakespeare’s sister, Nannerl was not given the opportunity to thrive. And what she did create was not valued or preserved – most female composers from the past have been forgotten, their music lost or gathering dust in libraries. We will never know what could have been, and this is our loss. – Sylvia Milo for the Guardian, 8 Sep 2015 modified 26 Mar 2020
Long form articles:
Eric Crozier; Erica MacFadyen [illustr.]
Published by Oxford University Press, London (1963)